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Feb 25, 2008 11:38 AM

Bay Area grocery shopping rant - is something missing?

I visited Sacramento and Davis a couple weekends ago, and made a stop at one of the Nugget Markets in Davis. It made me realize that the Bay Area grocery shopping scene is missing something.

What I liked about Nugget is that it's big and inviting, and seems to be pretty high quality but at the same time would work great for everyday shopping, not pretentious or overly "politically-correct" like Whole Foods and Andronico's. Here in the Bay Area, if you want that kind of quality, WF and Andronico's are your main choices, but both are clearly geared towards a different market (the rich? the organic/health-food police? those who are entertaining guests? People who would pay $9 for a bag of salted caramels?). The alternative is the lower tier of depressing old Luckys and Safeways.

Does anyone else agree that places like Nugget represent something missing in the Bay Area? If so, is there a reason for this? Or can anyone name a local store that's a legitimate Nugget equivalent?

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  1. Can you be more specific? What exactly do you think is lacking in the Bay Area? There are other stores b/w Whole Foods/Andronicos and Safeway/Lucky's. In the East Bay, there's Berkeley Bowl, which I find to be better quality than Safeway or Lucky's, but less expensive than Whole Foods and Andronico's, in general of course.

    I'm not as familiar with places in the city, but I'm pretty sure there are other options, but I'll let others chime in since its not my neck of the woods.

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        I've been to that Nob Hill and that actually fits the bill quite well. What I think is missing is a true "supermarket" that has at least some "gourmet" items and is inviting to shop in (which rules out the chaotic mess that is Berkeley Bowl) but still offers a full range of shopping, rather than just the high-end items of Andronico's or Whole Foods. I do realize this middle ground is hard to define, and YMMV - especially as to what makes a good shopping environment.

        Some of the renovated Safeways kind of fit this profile too. Still, if you've been to Nugget, or Ralphs Fresh Fare in SoCal, or Wegman's on the east coast - I think you'd be hard-pressed to name the equivalent here.

        1. re: Agent 510

          I agree that Berkeley Bowl is a chaotic mess most of the time, but seem to have found a niche when I can go and its not swamped (ie. Friday or Saturday evenings).

          1. re: chemchef

            The bowl really needs to put in a webcam so people can check the condition of the checkout lines before heading over.

            I live across the street and shop there probably five times a week. The trick is to go there at times which are really inconvenient for you, since they're likely to be inconvenient for everyone else too. Weekday mornings are a breeze. 3-4 weekday afternoons but get out before 4. Weekends if there's a major sporting event. Never go the day before or the day after a holiday -- thought the entire week after Thanksgiving it was a ghosttown in there. Another trick is to get there at a quarter to eight on a busy night, keep shopping after the "we're closed" announcement until the last person is going through the checkout, and then check out.

            1. re: uh ... art

              another "trick" is to park on adeline and walk 200 extra feet ... in dramatic
              contrast to the people who wait for 5 min in the middle of the parking lot
              rather than walk 50feet. a study by the RAND Corp showed that the BBowl parking lot has the highest concentration of bad drivers in
              northern ca.

              best of all is to park by crixa and pick up some fortifications for
              the walk to BBowl.

              i find the parking lot a lot more annoying than the lines inside.
              and at least they have 1+1 express lines ...unlike Costco.
              in fact Costco is probably the only store i go to regularly which i
              dislike going to, but that is mostly me ... it kinda depresses me to
              see the kinds of useless things people pick up on impulse there ...
              "honey, let's get this 3ft diameter wall clock that syncs to an ATOMIC
              clock in colorado for $34.95". but again, that just me and my personal anti-clutter demons.

              Well, since we're ranting ...
              To OP:
              --i dont understad your comment about "a place that is invitiing".
              i've almost always had polite butchers and cash register people etc.
              usually the annoying people are customers.
              --ok, i suppose i see what you mean about WF being pretentious
              ad expensive, but Andronicos? come on, isnt that sort of splitting hairs?
              i mean lots of students shop at the telegraph, shattuck and university
              branches. ok they may not have the cheep safeway sandwich meal
              deal etc but i think it has a pretty major overlap with safeway ...
              especially considering the wave of "poshification" a bunch of SF
              Safetyways are under going.

              of course groceries like foods co or food inc, whatever that cheep place
              is called, grocery outlet etc are horrible ambiance wise, but what do you expect. that's not why you go there. no free lunch etc.

              1. re: psb

                True, Andro's carries many of the same items as Safeway but the cost can be between 30-100% higher. I live in Berkeley and I see students there often, but I think it's just out of necessity and convenience, and I doubt any student uses it exclusively. That the University Ave. location is closing says a lot...despite no nearby competition, they couldn't do well because of their prices on basic items. On top of that, "luxury" items ($7 for a bag of Bear Naked granola?) make up enough of their stock that I consider Andro's a nichey gourmet market for the wealthy, rather than a supermarket.

                Finally, although it's hard to nail down what makes a place "inviting" and YMMV, Andro's inspired my rant because some of their stores just seem dingy and claustrophobic, surprisingly so for such an expensive place. Most Safeways and Luckys in the Bay aren't much better, and let's not even mention BBowl. Whole Foods is really good in terms of store factors (layout, newness, space, displays etc.) but I like how Nugget, Nob Hill and the renovated Safeways show that a mid-range chain can accomplish the same.

                1. re: Agent 510

                  Whatever the market is at the back of the El Cerrito Plaza shopping center is all shiny and big like out in the burbs. But the stuff they sell is crap.

                  Who says Andronico's is closing the University Ave. store?

                  I think it's slow because it's smaller than the Shattuck branch and Berkeley Bowl, which are as or more convenient to many of its potential customers.

                2. re: psb

                  As a student, I can decisively say that Andronico's is never where I would shop to save money. It lures you in with its gourmet items and pretentious, wealthy vibe it gives off, but it gets you in the end when your bag of groceries somehow cost twice as much as you expected. I mean come on, when does 1 pound of grapes cost $12 (That's a true story.. I had to put them back).

                  I would love a more local, organic, reasonable option than Safeway (And the Safeway in Rockridge still only has a ridiculously sad little supply of organic produce... definitely not "posh" by any means), but neither Whole Foods nor Andronico's supply that as they are way beyond my means.

                  1. re: tonyarose

                    sure, you might not go to the 'dron to save money, but
                    the fact that lots of students do shop there puts an implicit
                    limit on how much worse the prices are [or how much
                    better the "shopping experience is] because plenty of
                    students do shop at the southside and northside ones.
                    and in the case of the northside, clearly safeway is a
                    always an option [while in the case of the southside, the
                    college safeway and telegraph whole foods are a bit
                    out of walking range].

                    to the OP: maybe you should go to the spacious "super safeway"
                    at broadway/pleasant hill. i'd say it's the "most inviting" of the
                    berkeley/oakland "level 1" groceries :-)

                    1. re: tonyarose

                      Also a student and agree. I hate having to go to Andronico's for some special ingredient that I know I'll find there and don't have the time to hunt for (last time it was a packet of plain digestive biscuits and The Junket was closed... I paid $6 for something that is usually $3. sigh)

                      Tony, you've got to make the trek over to Berkeley Bowl. The parking lot makes me twitch, but they have everything you could possibly ever want and are reasonably priced. Really great produce section.

                      And, psb, my student friends refer to the southside andronico's as the 'ghetto one'... They never seem to be as well stocked as the three others and perhaps their products are geared toward students?

                      1. re: adrienne156

                        when i was a student [*] i mostly bought coke, ground beef and liquor
                        at the southside 'dron, so i suppose i'm sort of a data point
                        supporting your theory. nevertheless, it's a long way from actually
                        being "actually" ghetto [see certain cala foods, foods co, grocery
                        outlet etc].

                        we did once send a pod from bateau ivre to the 'dron next door
                        to buy a bottle of tequila while waiting forever for whatever we
                        ordered to arrive. i guess that was kinda ghetto.

                        [*] adrienne: kothay ha-re-ay gelo shonali bikel gulo ...

                        1. re: psb

                          It's not ghetto. It is the ghetto Andronico's of the four. I will not buy their produce.

                          LOL! I thought Bateau Ivre was more well-heeled than that?

                          [*]Rough translation for those of you who do not speak Bangla: 'Where did those golden dusks go...' Bangla is a very romantic language and there is a sense of loss ('kothay ha-re-ay gelo' = where did [they] get lost to) that unfortunately gets lost in translation. Beautiful spoken.

                          1. re: adrienne156

                            >It's not ghetto. It is the ghetto Andronico's of the four. I will not
                            yes, i appreciate your distinction.

                            >LOL! I thought Bateau Ivre was more well-heeled than that?
                            yes, again you'ld think so from the name and appearance.
                            at least on a couple of occasions it took so long to fill our
                            simple order, we were just flabbergasted. i think it took like
                            80min to get our food. and we thought we were out for a
                            spluge night. we never figured out what took every transaction
                            so long in an almost empty resto.

                            re: the bangla ... er, that was borrowed from manna dey.
                            but good comments. good background explanation
                            at the "more about this video" link at
                            [it's a famous bengali song about the "good old days"
                            of adda sessions at the the calcutta [sic] university coffeehouse
                            [see, there is a food connection]. now if you want to try to
                            explain "adda" feel free :-
                            )NYT: article on food and chat in kolkata:

                            1. re: psb

                              And while we're way over here in the right margin, a couple of more things about the Bowl that might make it more pleasant ... If you've got 15 or fewer things, no produce, and aren't using food stamps you can use the register over by the chinese food steam tables.

                              Never park in the Walgreens parking lot. They're out there booting people all the time (and while I'd never encourage others to refuse to shop at Walgreens for this unneighborly behavior, it certainly keeps me away).

                              The shopping carts at the bowl don't have those magic lock-up-when-leaving-the-parking-lot wheels so if you've parked in front of Crixa you can wheel your stuff right across the street. It's polite to take the cart back, though the retrieval truck makes a couple of passes every day.

                              Tuesday is generally not a good day. I'm not sure why but it might have to do with the farmers market happening a couple of blocks away.

                              They make breakfast burritos until about 10:30 and they're ridiculously huge enough to be breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack burritos and they're very good especially with a big dollop of the "hot" (not really) red sauce.

                              1. re: uh ... art

                                >Walgreens for this unneighborly behavior, it certainly keeps me away).
                                do you think they should put up a sign saying "berkley bowl
                                customers, please only park here when our parking lot is less
                                than 50% full"?

                                i'm sure they dont want to incur this additional expense and hassle
                                but come on, we all know what would happen if they didnt ...

                                i think you have to give them credit for putting up extensive
                                signage ... they at least arent trying to make money on parking
                                fines, but just deter what they reasonably would want to deter.

                                in fact the short little block of public street parking beween BBowl
                                and wallgreens is probably effectively an extension of the BBowl

                                1. re: psb

                                  >do you think they should put up a sign saying "berkley bowl
                                  >customers, please only park here when our parking lot is less
                                  >than 50% full"?

                                  I think that they should put up a sign saying "Welcome Bowl Customers! Come in and check out our large supply of toothpaste and aspirin!"

                                  But actually, I don't care what they do. What I care about is that you don't accidently park there and end up spending $60 more on the grocery trip than you planned.

                                  1. re: psb

                                    In an ideal world, they'd charge $5 to park in their lot...(free with $20 purchase, etc). It'd work out best for all concerned.

                      2. re: psb

                        I almost always park on the street -- in fact, I was at the Bowl Saturday afternoon and I found a place easily on Adeline next to Walgreens. I can't remember the last time (if ever) I had to park more than a block away, and since they let the carts out of the parking lot, it's no big deal.

                        I don't mind the lines at the Bowl too much -- I'm in awe of the checkers who are not only efficient but can identify the myriad variations on produce at a glance.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          What Ruth said! The checkers are amazingly fast and can (as mine did today) instantly tell the difference between CaraCara oranges, blood oranges and regular naval oranges, along with 2 Rio Star grapefruits and a medium pomelo. The lines also go quite fast.

                          My biggest woe are the produce and bin sections - especially the area around the squash and yams on one side and the bins on the other. I have, however, over the years developed the Berkeley Bowl Zen Approach - expect that it'll be crowded and that ditzy folks will stop and talk to each other, blocking the aisles and that kids will be grumpy or crying and that lots of carts will be parked right in front of the most popular bins. Take a deep breath and exhale slowly saying "I have the Berkeley Bowl Zen Attitude".

                          I also find that the best time to go is between 4:30 and 5 p.m. on weekdays. The afternooners are gone and the afterworkers haven't arrived.

                          1. re: oakjoan

                            My main rules at Berkeley Bowl are, never enter the parking lot, and always use a hand basket.

              2. Berkeley Bowl. They're going to build a second one to handle the demand.

                7 Replies
                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Wow! Really? When... where?

                  The only thing I think that Andronico's beats them out on is having a regular medicine and bath section for those of us who don't use 100% holistic and/or organic frou-frou bath products. I hate that I have to go to at least two places to do all my shopping.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      I'll believe it when I see it -- as that link shows, it's already well over two years in the planning process.

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        I think the French American school is fighting it.

                        1. re: Glencora

                          The fight's been over for a while. It's currently under construction.


                          1. re: Glencora

                            French + Fighting?

                            Berkeley Bowl wins.

                            1. re: Brandon Nelson

                              What! You don't consider Charles Martel French?

                  1. Wal-Mart (American Canyon) – Boulangerie, fishmonger, greengrocer, pico de gallo rotisserie chicken, deli, Sterling Vintners Collection wines and the sushi chef

                    ... and you can even buy a house to cook your food in there ... at least get a mortgage.

                    1. What about Bristol Farms? Or is that higher end than what you are thinking of. I've never been to Nugget.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: farmersdaughter

                        bristol farms (at least the one in the westfield center) is even more overpriced then whole foods or andronicos. also, they don't have unionized workers, and there's usually protestors asking you not to shop there.

                        i like mollie stones, which is also overpriced, but perhaps a little less so then whole foods or andronicos.

                        1. re: shivani

                          I of course haven't done a formal study, but having lived in the city for damn-near ever, I believe the following to be true (keep in mind I have, for the past 14 years, bought virtually only organic): Andronico's, Whole Foods, and Mollies are the most expensive--even Cal-Mart has better prices (and is pleasant simply because of its old-fashioned look and feel); it also seems to carry virtually everything. I walked through Bristol once, when it first opened, and thought its prices seemed right up there. Although I guess it makes me somewhat of a hypocrite to patronize WF on occasion and TJ's as well, I do boycott Bristol because of its egregious anti-labor policies.

                          I do my toilet paper shopping at Marina Safeway, which is close to my home and more pleasant than many of its siblings.

                          I particularly dislike the SF Andronico's--I've never had anything but disappointing experiences there: outdated cheeses; products advertised but not available; no one around to accept a question or complaint; promises on the phone unkept on arrival; and what seems like way out-of-line pricing. I generally use milk as my measure.

                          I shop primarily at Rainbow, with in-between fill-in and specialty produce from Real Food. I also get certain items from TJ's.

                          On the rare occasion I buy organic meat/poultry--and for fish--I'm most likely to stop at WF on California. What irritates me most of all there is the dearth of organic produce and the need to strain one's neck and eyes--and block traffic as well--while attempting to find out which is which. I also dislike the reputation WF has as being organic (TJ's too), when the majority of items are not. Pure intentional propaganda IMO.

                          I have been to Wegman's and, though impressive, it's not a place I could imagine shopping in on a regular basis because it's way too big and, should one forget an item at one end of the store after going to the other, it would be too exhausting to go back.

                          I love food-shopping but confess the Brave New World lighting and feeling-tone of Wegman's also turned me off.

                          Don't think I've been to Ralph's Fresh--how new is it? The Ralph's I've been to have been pretty grim..

                          As a postscript, may I please add that one of the most endearing aspects of Chowhound has always been the tacit agreement that we express our preferences without denigrating others'.